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March 09, 2012

The Right Endorses the Left's Victim Narrative

Definition of a victim: a person to whom life happens.

- Peter McWilliams

If I had to identify the insight most responsible for my rejection of progressive ideology, it would be the realization that life is governed by tradeoffs. Each choice we make entails benefits and costs. Life is inherently risky and often unfair. This is a fact of life and nothing government or society can do will change it.

Some people are born with beauty, brains, or talent and others are not. Some parents are industrious and loving. They teach their children the skills and habits that bring success and prosperity. Other parents are selfish and immature - their only gift to their children is an object lesson in how not to succeed. People are born incredibly lucky, snake bitten, or somewhere in between but no government program can make a plain woman gorgeous or a stupid person smart. Public policy cannot force bad parents to love their children, nor can Congress save a bad marriage.

The Left's answer to unfairness is to beseech government to do something beyond its capability: to erase inequality and make a profoundly unfair world, fair. In a perfect world populated by perfect human beings, this would be unnecessary. And because we do not live in a perfect world populated by perfect human beings, our attempts at social engineering usually succeed only in adding artificially imposed unfairness to the unfairness that already exists in the natural world.

The Right's answer to unfairness has been to ask more from ourselves; to marshal our forces and overcome adversity. This approach, like government solutions, carries with it no guarantee of success. What it does, however, is harness unfairness to our advantage: it enables us to develop coping mechanisms; to adapt and overcome.

One ideology views man as a helpless victim of forces beyond his control. The other recognizes that adversity brings out the best of which the human spirit is capable. To the Right, hardship is not a bug to be eliminated but a necessary goad that propels us onward and upward. It sees the human will as a force capable of overmastering even the cruellest Fate.

Lately, though, some on the Right seem to be endorsing the very victimhood mentality we've so often opposed. Recently, Rush Limbaugh did something every human being since Adam and Eve has done at one time or another: he failed to live up to his own standards.

The Left has often maintained that if we can't be perfect, we should just do away with standards altogether. Their outcome based morality has been disatrous for society, because a world without accountability and consequences is a world where moral hazard blinds us to the causal connection between bad decisions and the bad outcomes that flow from them. It deprives us of the feedback we need to learn from our mistakes.

The Right has always maintained that though human nature is indeed fallible, we need standards. It does not matter that we cannot always live up to them: the right response to failure is not to lower our aim, but to try harder until we succeed. A society without standards becomes a race to the bottom where the acts of the very worst drag the best of us down to their level. A society with no standards and no accountability defines the human spirit down to the lowest common demonimator.

I would like to believe it was a deeply conservative belief in the value of accountability and standards that led Mr. Limbaugh to apologize for his actions in L'Affaire Fluke. Doing so cannot have been easy for him. That his enemies would gloat and sneer and glory in his humiliation was a foregone conclusion. That they would be ungracious was utterly unsurprising.

But a man of honor does not apologize in expectation of reward. He realizes that self respect is not a cookie that can be granted or withheld by others. Self respect is something we earn for ourselves, often at considerable cost. The man who holds himself accountable acts in his own interest, not in anticipation of praise or external rewards.

Many of his supporters have suggested that Limbaugh did not mean it when he apologized. Let's think about that for a moment: some of his defenders are saying that despite sincerely believing himself to be in the right, he bowed to pressure from enraged sponsors or caved to political correctness. If this is the correct interpretation, why are they defending him?

I have criticized his actions, but I believe he deserves the benefit of the doubt. We are all fallible. We all make mistakes, and when we do the right course of action is to face reality squarely, difficult and embarrassing as that may be. The facts in this case seem to be that Mr. Limbaugh didn't bother to read Ms. Fluke's testimony before calling her a slut and a prostitute and suggesting that women who believe insurance should cover birth control should post online sex tapes to compensate their fellow taxpayers. Mr. Limbaugh's offensive words appear to have been removed from transcripts of his shows.

What does this suggest to you about how he feels about them? Does it suggest pride and principled refusal to bow to the Left's concerted attacks? Or does it perhaps suggest a recognition that he, like so many others these days, substituted the standards of Bill Maher for his own?

Via Memeorandum, James Taranto, who has been on an odd one man jihad against feminists, working women, and birth control of late, also endorses the Left's victim mantra.
In an essay entitled: The Unchained Woman: What used to be a normal family life is now available only to the affluent, he suggests that working women are "chained" to their desks. O Uncaring Fate, that leaves otherwise sensible men and women who could easily choose otherwise (were they to accept that life is full of tradeoffs) with "no choice"!

An increasing number of affluent women with affluent husbands are casting off the chains of professional work, according to a forthcoming Federal Reserve study that Reuters apparently obtained in advance:

It shows that between 1993 and 2006, there was a decline in the workforce of 0.1 percent a year on average in the number of college-educated women, with similarly educated spouses.
That contrasts with growth of 2.4 percent a year between 1976 and 1992.
The result: the labor force in 2008 had 1.64 million fewer such women than if the growth rate had kept up its earlier trend, slightly more than 1 percent of the total workforce in that year.
"The trend is not limited to top earners," Reuters notes. "It has been detected among households earning around $80,000 per year." But $80,000 goes a lot further in the middle of the country than it does in New York or San Francisco. A husband has to be fairly affluent for his wife to be able to afford to stay home: "Only a few households can afford to give up a good second income."

For women with lower levels of education, the picture is markedly different, as Charles Murray shows in "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010." One-income households have become common at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum as well--but because women are less likely to be married at all, while men are less likely to be in the labor force.

Marriage and male responsibility for families were once the norm at all levels of American society. Feminism was supposed to liberate women from dependency on men. Instead it has helped to create a two-tiered culture in which the norm is for women to be "chained to a desk," but those who hit the jackpot in the mating game can realistically aspire to escape that status. Nice going, ladies. Happy International Women's Day.

This is just plain bizarre. The idea that it is "impossible" for a married couple to get by on one income has long been advanced by the Left but I never thought I'd see the idea that the unwillingness to accept tradeoffs deprives us of choices advanced by conservatives.

Cruel fate does not prevent even low income mothers from staying home with their children. The refusal to live frugally, to resist instant gratification or live within one's means often does, however. For well over 20 years, my husband and I happily got by on one salary. We lived below the poverty level for the first two years of our marriage, but "poverty" in America is not what it is in the third world. Our poverty merely meant we had to be careful with money. Like so many things the Left has defined down, poverty is no longer absolute and objective. Conservatives should not buy into the narrative of the poor and the "near poor" as helpless victims who have "no choice" but to make bad decisions. To turn the poor and "near poor" into helpless victims gives too much credit to feminists and far too little to their own moral agency. This is a profoundly patronizing view of human nature that even the all too human desire to score points on one's opponents cannot excuse.

Today my son, his wife, and two sons manage to get by on a police officer's salary. They own their own home in a very nice neighborhood and have two cars. They are - by every objective measure - better off than we were at the same age. They have more things. Their house is far nicer than the first home we bought. They have two cars to the one my working husband and I shared. They have a TV and two computers and so many clothes for my grandsons that they don't need our help.

If working mothers are choosing to stay home with their families, that is a good thing. It's also a voluntary choice. If they choose to work, that is also a choice. To suggest that people who have more choices than their parents have somehow been deprived of choices by evil feminists is just plain delusional.

We are all responsible for the decisions we make in life. Blaming others for the tradeoffs that have always been part of life has never been a conservative value. The suggestion that free people have no obligation to be better than the dregs of society, as though responsibility were something that can be defined away by simply pointing out that somewhere, someone has done something even worse, ought to offend conservatives on the merits.

Contra Mr. Taranto, who I'm pretty sure has no idea what it's like to be a wife and mother (working or otherwise) I trust women and men to make their own decisions about the relative value of time with their children and a little extra income. The answer to the human propensity to make mistakes is not to limit freedom or define our standards down to those of the Left.

************

Update: Welcome, Michelle Malkin readers!

Update II: This is so well reasoned. Especially this:

Male or female, a working person can find himself/herself in a stultifying or otherwise unpleasant job, and a job-free spouse may find himself/herself lacking power in an abusive relationship. There's no one answer to how to stay out of the many bad positions a human being can get into. You can go too far protecting yourself from dysfunctional dependency on a lackluster job or a lackluster jobless life. And you can go too far clinging to one or the other. People need to pay attention to the details of their own lives and exercise good judgment as they make their own individual decisions. You can get into trouble using big ideologies to make those decisions.

A criticism that could fairly be made of my own post, quite frankly. If you read nothing else today, go read this.

Posted by Cassandra at March 9, 2012 09:38 AM

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Comments

"The Left's answer to unfairness is to beseech government to do something beyond its capability: to erase inequality and make a profoundly unfair world, fair."

The government cannot erase inequality but it can often go a ways towards redressing it. Surely you recognize that? When a man abuses his wife and the police force him to stop, to go to prison and not to be near her again that is the government redressing inequality. When a company poisons a waterway and the government detects it and stops it, again, the government redressing inequality. When the old and unworldy are taken by scam artists and robbed of their savings the government can not only prosecute the scammer but can also provide a guaranteed pension to help in the victim's old age.

Of course the government can also cause inequality. That's exactly why civilized countries have tried to make government more and more accountable to the people and less and less to popes, kings, or wealthied interests (on the last we've failed so far rather badly).

You are making a absurd argument based on reducing the liberal position (and the conservative one) to a massive oversimplification.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 12:12 PM

The government cannot erase inequality but it can often go a ways towards redressing it.

As when we discriminate against Asians or poor whites by admitting affluent black students to elite universities?

When a man abuses his wife and the police force him to stop, to go to prison and not to be near her again that is the government redressing inequality.

No. When a man commits a crime and society refuses to tolerate that, that is the government upholding justice and the rule of law.

Spousal abuse is not an inequality issue.

When the old and unworldy are taken by scam artists and robbed of their savings the government can not only prosecute the scammer but can also provide a guaranteed pension to help in the victim's old age.

I think you are confusing misfortune with fairness.

Social security is a program that one is entitled to by virtue of having earned a salary (though Obama is doing his best to sever the connection between work and Social Security). Being scammed has nothing to do with it.

The problem with general rules whose goal is to "level the playing field" is that it is nearly impossible to define a general rule (especially when the government builds in artificial qualifications that have nothing to do with individual virtue or merit and everything to do with gender, race, or some other arbitrarily defined characteristic) that fits every situation.

Government preferences often increase individual unfairness. They favor one group at the expense of another.

My brother in law works for the federal govt. in a female dominated medical field. Despite the fact that the vast majority of leadership positions are already held by women, men are routinely discriminated against on the basis of their sex on the loopy notion that this will boost the overall number of senior female leaders.

That's wrong. We don't rectify discrimination against women by codifying discrimination against men. Two wrongs don't make a right.

And I don't want to be the beneficiary of that kind of legalized government discrimination.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 12:35 PM

None of the examples you made have anything to do with inequality. They are about the infringements of one's rights by another.

The problem between the abused spouse and the abuser is not an unequal distribution of bruises or an unequal distribution in strength (with which to defend oneself). The abuser is violating the rights of the abused. The police do not "redress the inequality between the spouses" they protect the rights of the abused spouse.

The company dumping waste is poisoning those people downstream, and the scam artist is stealing from his victims. Those are violations of peoples' rights, not an inequality of water purity or inequality of intelligence/street smarts.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 01:00 PM

Touche, Cass. You, dear lady, have it 100% correct. Liberals and advocates of "fairness" would have the government impose "unfair" rules and regulations on those who have endeavored, labored and perservered to rise above the average. How then, is that "fair?" To penalize someone for doing well is....dare I speak ill of those who would do so? Or do I risk condemnation by the flotsam and jetsam of society whose envy of all they do not have - that was unjustly not given to them as a reward for merely existing? Do I care about that? Not really.

Personally, I will help someone who needs help. But if they waste my help, or try to take advantage of my less than perfect instinct that all want to do better and not merely take all they can get, then I can and will just walk on by.

Also glad to see you took the note off the header. And I know I speak for many in saying that you are indeed the Blog Princess and we are very pleased that you are back in the fray. Don't overload yourself or overdo it. The battle is just over the horizon and we will need you then and there.

ABO 2012!

Kbob

Posted by: kbob in Katy at March 9, 2012 01:05 PM

What I find insulting about pieces like the Taranto one is that they end up casting people as feckless meat machines who are blown hither and yon by the winds of fate.

What the heck ever happened to the notion of free will?

Posted by: Allen at March 9, 2012 01:14 PM

I haven't had time yet to read Taranto's full essay yet, but I saw the quoted bit earlier and had a different takeaway.

Mine were:
1) The tradeoffs to have a stay at home spouse are more difficult now than they used to be
2) Because the tradeoffs are more difficult less people choose to make it
3) The ones who do choose to make the tradeoff are disproportionately affluent.
4) This is bad

I happen to disagree with Premise 1 making the rest kind of moot, but incorrect as I think they are, they didn't come across to me as embracing victimhood.

Perhaps, it's because I didn't read "Chained to their desks" quite as strictly as you did. I didn't read it as "no choice" but rather "more difficult".

But as I said, the idea that it is more difficult today is complete bunk. The standard of living for a household with only a primary wage earner today, I believe, would still be higher than the standard of living for a household with only a primary wage earner in the 50s. The difference is that in the 50s a single TV was considered an "upper scale" item. Today, if you don't have multiple 42"+ flat screen HDTVs it's considered a damned shame.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 01:23 PM

That's a great point, Allen.

I have two daughters in law.

One came from a blue collar background. The other from a wealthy DC family.

One DIL was the first in her family to graduate from college. She also has a Master's Degree.

The other's parents both have Masters level degrees. She just earned her PhD.

I would never argue that it isn't easier to come from a privileged background, but some of the smartest and hardest working people I've known have come from humble origins. There's not a hair's breadth of difference between my two DILs when it comes to intelligence, drive, or integrity. They are both impressive young women.

One had all the advantages and took what she was given and multiplied it. The other had significant disadvantages in life, but they spurred her to overcome them and excel.

My own life is rather a study in "adapt and overcome". I didn't get my BS until I was nearly 40. Any disadvantages I had were of my own making, but pain is a wonderful teacher.

I would argue that when you start out with two strikes against you, you *need* to step up your game. I learned from my mistakes because no one stepped in to airbrush away the consequences. Like Kbob, I recognize that sometimes people need help but I also recognize that sometimes, people are their own worst enemies.

Of all people, I should know that, having screwed up so magnificently so often :p

PS: Thanks for the kind words, Kbob :)

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 01:24 PM

"As when we discriminate against Asians or poor whites by admitting affluent black students to elite universities? "

Let's say i accept your premise that AA is a travesty. And? Does the existence of a bad solution that fails to adequately resolve an inequality prove that there are no good solutions? Of course not. Your point is irrelevant.


"No. When a man commits a crime and society refuses to tolerate that, that is the government upholding justice and the rule of law.

Spousal abuse is not an inequality issue."

Of course it is. The man has a position of power due to physical, economic, or emotional inequalities and uses it to harm the woman (of course the roles can be reversed, it's just much less common). What you are ignoring is that justice and the rule of law are entirely about redressing inequalities.


"I think you are confusing misfortune with fairness."

The difference being?


"Social security is a program that one is entitled to by virtue of having earned a salary (though Obama is doing his best to sever the connection between work and Social Security). Being scammed has nothing to do with it."

Of course but as a guaranteed benefit it means that even a person who is scammed has something to fall back upon. They may not do as well as a person smart enough to not be taken advantage of but they don;t have to eat dogfood, as it were.


"The problem with general rules whose goal is to "level the playing field" is that it is nearly impossible to define a general rule (especially when the government builds in artificial qualifications that have nothing to do with individual virtue or merit and everything to do with gender, race, or some other arbitrarily defined characteristic) that fits every situation."

The question then is whether the inequalities spawned by imperfect rules outweigh the inequalities they were meant to redress, I think the weight of evidence is hugely on the side of no they don't. And in particular if we had a well functioning government where the bad side effects could be intellignetly explored and themselves dealt with it's vastly better than shrugging and saying "such is life."

Life is what we make of it, we can choose to let it victimize us or we can make it treat us more fairly. That is entirely within our collective power.


"That's wrong. We don't rectify discrimination against women by codifying discrimination against men. Two wrongs don't make a right."

I don;t disagree, but then the wrong you identify could be easily rectified with a better rule. One based on current circumstances rather than a legacy of a situation that no longer exists. It's no different than fixing a tax to take inflation into account. The bad situation needs a refinement of the rules, not a rejection of them.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 01:51 PM

Yu-Ain:

I think your assessment of Taranto's essay is an accurate one, and I did weigh the "chained to their desks" pretty heavily.

One thing I didn't address (because the post was already too long) was the suggestion that the success of affluent working couples has come at the expense of the lower class.

This is straight out of the Occupy play book.

Nothing (save perhaps an excess of freedom or a deficiency of social pressure) prevents lower class men and women from marrying or (if they do) from choosing to be a one income household.

Having been a low skilled/low education worker for over two decades myself, I'm only too familiar with the mathematics involved. If you can't earn a good wage, it rarely pays to be a working mom. Once you pay for child care, clothing, transportation and the tax penalty, your takehome pay asymptotically approaches el numero zed.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 01:53 PM

"None of the examples you made have anything to do with inequality. They are about the infringements of one's rights by another."

And what is it you think makes that possible? Hint- inequality. Without that there is no infringement because nobody has the power to do so against another's will.


"The police do not "redress the inequality between the spouses" they protect the rights of the abused spouse."

That's merely semantics. The rights of the abused spouse were trampled because the other spouse sought to do so and the inequality of the situation made it possible.

You may never be able to make people stop wanting to abuse each other, but you can most assuredly step in when they do, and limit their ability to do so in the future. Justice is entirely about inequality.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 01:57 PM

Tlaloc:

Thanks for engaging so civilly :)

Most folks on the right are not against the idea of a safety net per se. My personal objection is that the safety net, once established, continues to grow (as does the evolving definition of poverty). There is no limiting principle to hold the line.

I don't know what we as a society can do about that. I wish I did.

The question then is whether the inequalities spawned by imperfect rules outweigh the inequalities they were meant to redress, I think the weight of evidence is hugely on the side of no they don't. And in particular if we had a well functioning government where the bad side effects could be intellignetly explored and themselves dealt with it's vastly better than shrugging and saying "such is life."

I don't disagree that the relative importance we assign to various moral and practical outcomes tends to determine where we come down on the question of government intervention. These are value judgments.

Are you familiar with the work of Jonathan Haidt? He posits that progressives (and he is one) weigh two of the moral dimensions (harm/care and fairness/inequality) heavily and discount the others.

Conservatives tend to place roughly equal value on the 6 moral dimensions he defines. So it's not that we don't value an ethic of care or don't recognize inequality when we see it. It's just that to us, those things must be balanced against other considerations like freedom, duty, sacredness, order, etc.

I rather like his formulation because it doesn't say, "This is right, that is wrong" but instead acknowledges that our personal preferences differ for valid reasons.

... the wrong you identify could be easily rectified with a better rule. One based on current circumstances rather than a legacy of a situation that no longer exists. It's no different than fixing a tax to take inflation into account. The bad situation needs a refinement of the rules, not a rejection of them.

Perhaps. My belief is that there are tradeoffs between security and liberty. Purchasing security for one group at the expense of another group's liberty is a tradeoff I'm not willing to make because I do value liberty highly. But I will willingly acknowledge that people of intelligence and good will may draw the line in a different place.

Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 02:05 PM

This site can't get over the Limbaugh/DNC/MSM Kubuki theatre. She who runs this site thniks she's above mere partisan politics and she would like to take the high ground.

Geez....One more time (with feeling...), Limbaugh did nothing wrong and he shouldn't have even apologized. In case you don't get it, Limbaugh likes to poke fun at the Liberal Intelligentsia and it's MSM allies (really the marketing dept for the DNC).

A 30 yr old professional student and part-time activist is fair game for mocking and ridicule. Asking others to pay for her contraception, (which she apparently needs in large quantities), is laughable and morally and politically wrong-headed. She should have been laughed at and mocked.

Posted by: betwyan at March 9, 2012 02:12 PM

Only if you assume that in all cases the "disadvantaged" person is incapable of violating another's rights.

That's a flawed premise. Look at any sporting event. The better team may defeat the weaker team more often, but they very rarely have perfect records.

In an assault, the attacker may be the smaller, weaker, dumber person, and they might still very well win. Maybe in 100 assaults they would only win 10, but that doesn't matter. We don't look at the situation and say "Hey, these two people aren't equal. Put the big, strong, smart guy in jail to make things fair."

We couldn't care less about the inequality between the victim and the criminal.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 02:17 PM

Limbaugh did nothing wrong and he shouldn't have even apologized

And yet, he did. So either he was wrong to say it or he was wrong to apologize. One or the other.

But we must never say Rush was wrong! It supports the Left's war on conservatives and we dare not take their side.

Dude, please. Rush screwed up. It's not his first time, it won't be his last.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 02:24 PM

Limbaugh did nothing wrong and he shouldn't have even apologized.

Then why did he? Enlighten us.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 02:24 PM

"Thanks for engaging so civilly :) "

It's a nice blog you have here be a shame if something were to... happen to it. :P


"Most folks on the right are not against the idea of a safety net per se. My personal objection is that the safety net, once established, continues to grow (as does the evolving definition of poverty). There is no limiting principle to hold the line."

I think it wouldn't be a problem except for the massive income inequality we have in this country. If the number who are poor remains small and steady the growth of safety nets shouldn't be hard to keep to inflation type levels. The problem is we have a society that is coming apart in terms of wealth with the wealthy growing in wealth at an astounding rate and the poor essentially stagnating and the middle class losing ground. The result is a growing number of americans who qualify for safety net programs.

Address the income inequality and I really believe the safety net growth will solve itself.


"Are you familiar with the work of Jonathan Haidt?"

Fraid not, I'm more of a Neil Postman guy.

"My belief is that there are tradeoffs between security and liberty."

Here's the thing though- in the matter of income inequality (and I know you weren't addressing that since I just brought it up) choosing liberty is an illusion because eventually the serfs get tired of not having anything and they realize they can just take it. That never ends well for anyone but it is essentially inevitable. all the bread and circuses can hold it off for a while, but eventually the very fabric of society snaps and you have chaos.

I think any responsible choice for liberty over security (or equality I would say) needs to first be a choice for a sustainable society.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 02:26 PM

"...choosing liberty is an illusion because eventually the serfs get tired of not having anything and they realize they can just take it. That never ends well for anyone but it is essentially inevitable. all the bread and circuses can hold it off for a while, but eventually the very fabric of society snaps and you have chaos."

This sounds like you are saying that all people are nothing more than thieves and given the choice will always steal what they want rather than earning it honestly.
Is that what you meant?

Posted by: DL Sly at March 9, 2012 02:43 PM

It's a nice blog you have here be a shame if something were to... happen to it. :P

Heh... :) I was afraid that might come off other than the way I meant it. Perils of online communication.

re: income inequality. I have written a fair amount on the topic. I believe the data suggests that a large part of *household* income inquality stems from the rise in two worker households and the rise in illegitimacy.

When you look at the highest income brackets, something like 90% of high earning households are married, two worker households.

When you look at the lowest earning brackets, something like 90% of them have less than one FT worker per household and few are married.

That is a sea change of massive proportions that is arousing consternation from both the right and left. We know that children do better in stable families with two parents. I don't think it's blaming the victim to acknowledge that reality.

Children need fathers too. Sadly, we can't force people to use birth control or to marry the mothers of their children (and that's only partly tongue in cheek).

You make a lot of very good points, Tlaloc. I don't agree with you on a lot of this - mostly the cause and effect stuff. I think incentives affect our behavior and the safety net itself changes those incentives in ways that produce moral hazard and resultingly poor risk mitigation in individual decision making.

Unemployment insurance changes those incentives.

Welfare changes those incentives. And I think it is arguable that increases to all these programs are disincenting hard work and personal responsibility.

The black family endured through slavery and Jim Crow, only to fall apart when Johnson's Great Society and the war on poverty created powerful disincentives for men to take responsibility for their children. I think these forces have had the same effect on whites.

The effects are only compounded when a generation of kids from broken homes grow up with no example to guide them in their own married lives and no social support system to mentor them.

This is the kind of unintended consequence that turned me against well intended government social engineering programs.

Anyway, I thank you for your comments. Guess I'll have to look up Neil Postman!

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 02:46 PM

I think it wouldn't be a problem except for the massive income inequality we have in this country.

The thing is, income inequality hasn't been getting worse.

The income inequality metric you hear in the press is based on "Household" income, not individual income. The last 15 years, individual income inequality has been flat or slightly negative (haven't found BLS data for individual GINI index further back than that). If the individual metric is going down, but the household metric is going up, it means that how people group themselves into households is what has been changing.

Marriage rates have been going down, divorce rates have been going up and affluent people are not only more likely to get and stay married but are more likely to marry other affluent people.

How exactly are you planning on the gov't forcing an equal distribution of marriage?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 02:47 PM

"This sounds like you are saying that all people are nothing more than thieves and given the choice will always steal what they want rather than earning it honestly.
Is that what you meant?"

Take the nicest dog in the world and poke him for years, starve him, burn him, and yeah he'll turn on you.

I don't really think people have a fundamental nature, they just learn and react to the environment. Anyone can be turned into a thief, a tyrant, or a priest. You just have to know where to push.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 02:57 PM

"I believe the data suggests that a large part of *household* income inquality stems from the rise in two worker households and the rise in illegitimacy.

When you look at the highest income brackets, something like 90% of high earning households are married, two worker households.

When you look at the lowest earning brackets, something like 90% of them have less than one FT worker per household and few are married."


That really sounds like a causality-correlation issue. You can look at individual incom inequality as an easy way to avoid the question altogether:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_income_in_the_United_States#Income_distribution

"That is a sea change of massive proportions that is arousing consternation from both the right and left. We know that children do better in stable families with two parents. I don't think it's blaming the victim to acknowledge that reality.

Children need fathers too. Sadly, we can't force people to use birth control or to marry the mothers of their children (and that's only partly tongue in cheek)."


Lets say that your view of the causality is correct...then doesn't that only make a social safety net more important? It creates a positive feedback loop in which people are kept from terrible poverty which encourages nuclear families which helps them financially and so on...


"Unemployment insurance changes those incentives.
Welfare changes those incentives."

Cerainly, but for better or worse? When I was 18 I went to college even though I had no desire to. I'd always been told I was going to college so I went. I wracked up significant bills and was a mediocre student because i didn;t do much homework. I learned but I sabotaged myself a lot.

Now in my mid-30s I'm going back to school with the right motivation. I'm there because I want to be and I'm full involved with the program. I'm applying to grad school and planning on most likely getting a PhD.

No unemployment is like telling a kid they're getting a job. Yeah they may get one, but they're going to be a crappy worker, and they're going to develop bad habits. Maybe we can't let everyone just skate by without a job as long as they like, but it may be a lot better to give them some time to recover from losing a job, to find alternatives, and to maybe even work on themselves a bit before they absolutely have to get back in the game.


"Anyway, I thank you for your comments. Guess I'll have to look up Neil Postman!"

My pleasure. Try "Technopoly" and "Amusing Ourselves to Death." Two of my favorites.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 03:07 PM

"The thing is, income inequality hasn't been getting worse."

Really cause when I look it is:
1929: 45.0 (estimated)
1947: 37.6 (estimated)
1967: 39.7 (first year reported)
1968: 38.6 (lowest index reported)
1970: 39.4
1980: 40.3
1990: 42.8
2000: 46.2
2005: 46.9
2006: 47.0 (highest index reported)
2007: 46.3
2008: 46.69
2009: 46.8

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gini_coefficient#US_income_Gini_indices_over_time (data from the census bureau)

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 03:13 PM

Lets say that your view of the causality is correct...then doesn't that only make a social safety net more important? It creates a positive feedback loop in which people are kept from terrible poverty which encourages nuclear families which helps them financially and so on...

No, not if the safety net is part of the problem (and I believe it is).

I honestly believe the single biggest problem facing this nation today is moral hazard. People don't save for a rainy day. In fact, they mostly don't save at all.

They live from paycheck to paycheck and their household deficit spending is just as bad as that of the federal govt. Credit is artificially cheap (thanks to the govt) so people use more of it than they would at higher interest rates.

Birth control is subsidized and also cheaper than it has ever been, and yet people still don't use it. They have kids when they're not married, which is just beyond dumb. It's hard to raise children correctly, and single mothers have two strikes against them when it comes to earning a decent living. They also have two strikes against them when it comes to holding the line on discipline in the home. Kids wear you down - having another adult to support you is HUGE.

I don't think the problem is too *much* negative feedback, but rather too *little* negative feedback.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 03:25 PM

When I was 18 I went to college even though I had no desire to. I'd always been told I was going to college so I went. I wracked up significant bills and was a mediocre student because i didn;t do much homework. I learned but I sabotaged myself a lot.

I did much the same, but I quit in my freshman year because I realized I was wasting my parents' money.

Now in my mid-30s I'm going back to school with the right motivation. I'm there because I want to be and I'm full involved with the program. I'm applying to grad school and planning on most likely getting a PhD.

I also went back to school in my 30s. I graduated with a 4.0 and tripled my earning power.

I don't believe college is a panacea. I also (as a former financial aid counselor - that's how I paid my own way through school without taking on debt) believe financial aid is too easy. Kids don't think before taking out huge loans and that's bad.

I used to discourage students from taking out loans. I'd put in their apps if they insisted, but I encouraged them to slow down, work part time if they needed to, and pay as they learned. I also encouraged them to apply for grants and scholarships and to research salaries for their fields and balanced anticipated earnings against future loan debt.

It took me 10 years to get my degree but I didn't take out a single loan.

It really bugs me that government answer to bad decisions seems to be, "we have to make it easier". I believe we have to stress responsibility and careful planning, and those things require effort.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 03:34 PM

Tsk, tsk, you dropped out of college, got married, raised two kids, and went back to college later on. You rebel you. :)

I dropped out of college my first year, joined the Army then went back after a 4 year stint. I sometimes wish I had been a little more imaginative in my rebellion against my parents.

Posted by: Allen at March 9, 2012 03:45 PM

I fail to see how anyone's success CREATES an obligation to help anyone less successful.

Was I responsible for your birth? Your education, lack of it, failure to benefit from it, or any other life circumstance of yours? If you're not my child, no.

Was I responsible for your inner drive, lack of it, social graces, innate intelligence or anything else about you? Not hardly.

Certain schools of thought declare we are all human, all brothers and sisters, and responsible for each other's welfare. That there is a social contract between all members of society, which conveys implicit responsibilities and obligations up all members of a society. This is nonsense.

Right now, I see those same people who declare we are all brothers and sisters demanding special treatment for certain groups, whether based on race, creed, socio-economic status or other attributes. These are the same people who identify themselves as part of those subgroups:
"African-American", "Latino-American", "Asian-American" and so forth. I have a counter-proposal:

My birth imposed no obligations on you. My circumstances impose no obligations on you. Your life choices and events impose no obligation on me. If I need help and you choose not to, there is no failure on your part. If you need help and I choose not to (or simply can't), there is no failure on my part. The government is NOT there to redress imaginary or real social imbalances of any sort. It is there to do the minimum necessary to defend us, keep order and peace when absolutely necessary, and stay out of the way otherwise.

To argue otherwise is to make one or the other of us slaves or prisoners, and I don't keep either. And I won't be one.

Delude yourself otherwise and I will eventually run out of patience.

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 03:52 PM

My poor Dad suffered a lot, Allen. He had such high hopes for me, but some kids need to screw up and have a close encounter with the great 2x4 of life.

I'm a big believe that most kids aren't ready for college right after HS. I think many would benefit from a few years of work first. If nothing else, that teaches them that they really don't want to settle for a path that's easy at first but yields rapidly diminishing marginal returns.

It's amazing how being denied (largely though my own stupidity) the chance to go to college made me more determined to finish than I ever would have been had I gone on my parents' dime.

I tutored College Algebra, Calc I and Stats as well as Business Law while in school. Invariably, the kids who didn't have skin in the game (i.e., weren't paying their own way) didn't try very hard. That's why they were failing. It wasn't the teacher's fault - it was their own lack of effort and motivation.

The kids and adults who WERE paying their own way were willing to invest the time and effort needed to overcome their problems. Sometimes that entailed dropping a class and going back one level. Math is one of those subjects where success is almost always a function of willingness to work hard.

Good preparation for life.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 04:00 PM

I fail to see how anyone's success CREATES an obligation to help anyone less successful.

In all fairness, I'm not sure that's what Tlaloc is arguing. I think he's arguing that income inequality undermines social stability, therefore society has a vested interest in minimizing it.

Intelligent self interest, if you will.

I don't agree with him, but it's an interesting argument (and far more pragmatic than most of the arguments made by the Left).

Interestingly enough, Jim's argument is the perfect counter to Tlaloc's: it isn't just the danger of a lower class revolt we have to worry about. If government moves from protecting private property to confiscating and redistributing it, the upper classes are going to revolt.

Great comment, Jim!

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 04:06 PM

Q: "The upper classes are revolting?"

A: "They've always been revolting, but now they're rebelling."

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2012 04:21 PM

"n all fairness, I'm not sure that's what Tlaloc is arguing. I think he's arguing that income inequality undermines social stability, therefore society has a vested interest in minimizing it.

Intelligent self interest, if you will."

But if I'm not responsible for income inequality, how can the government (as my agent) be responsible for it? More realistically, how can it do anything about income inequality without destroying property rights? If I make a million by legal means, how can the government make any claim on it for purposes of reducing income inequality? The government was not created to prevent income inequality (surely the Founders were not all equally rich, poor or anything else) and cannot perform that function without destroying property rights, freedom to some extent, and personal initiative (why go through the sweat, blood and tears to earn a million if someone else will benefit from it?)

THIS is what equality-by-any-means advocates fail to understand: steal from me enough (by taxation, redistribution or other means) long enough and I'll quit, one way or another. Then you can whistle for your necessary-functions-of-government support, once John Galt shrugs; after all the parasites and thieves starve, then we can talk about re-starting the economy.
IF I CHOOSE I will support the unfortunate (and I do, by the way) but you cannot COMPEL me to do so; it is immoral, unethical and simply THEFT to coerce by taxation what was not freely supported.

"If government moves from protecting private property to confiscating and redistributing it, the upper classes are going to revolt."

A) Kelo vs. New London, CT; the government has already moved from protecting private property...

B) Right now I'm in grad school also, supporting my family on a stipend that puts us below the official poverty line. I second your observation, however, that being poor in America is less of a burden than in, say, Hungary right now. My kids don't have iPads, iPhones or Crocs on their feet; but they eat, wear clothes and go to school pretty much like everyone else. And after I scare up another $90k, I'll own this house I'm living in , too...
"Well I've got a car that's mine alone, that me and the finance company own...."

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 04:22 PM

Any man who quotes Jerry Reed can't be too bad, even if he is upper class.

Nevertheless, it's not quite right to say that your circumstances impose no obligations on anyone else. If I walk down and alley and find you in the circumstance of having a heart attack, I am obligated to render aid and assistance. If your circumstances bring you to have a car wreck in front of me, this obligation has the force of law; but it exists whether or not the law recognizes it.

The limits of that principle are what the discussion is about. That the principle exists is not controversial.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2012 04:26 PM

Tlaloc,

The stats you cite are the Household numbers. I've already addressed the issue with using that metric.

The individual metric however, is flat to slight decline.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 04:28 PM

"Any man who quotes Jerry Reed can't be too bad, even if he is upper class."

How on earth did I get defined as "upper class"? I've been in graduate school in engineering for the last decade, earned a Master's and working on a Doctorate; my income has not exceeded $30k /yr since returning to school, and many years was well below that. I have some savings, still, from my twenty years in industry, but hardly can I see "upper class" in MY eyes. Compared to starving African villagers, perhaps, but not in America....

"Nevertheless, it's not quite right to say that your circumstances impose no obligations on anyone else. If I walk down and alley and find you in the circumstance of having a heart attack, I am obligated to render aid and assistance. If your circumstances bring you to have a car wreck in front of me, this obligation has the force of law; but it exists whether or not the law recognizes it."

I think you are conflating emergency assistance with income equality; the law does not oblige me to heal your heart attack (good thing, my training stops at first aid), nor fix your car, sue your opponent or make you any wealthier than you were before your accident. It is also questionable whether the law is enforceable in reality; if I watch your crash and call for help on my cellphone, that might be reasonable. But if your car catches fire, I'm not likely to pull you out and risk my own death / heart attack / severe burns. How far does the law require you to risk your own life to ATTEMPT to preserve someone else's?

By the way, I'm neither heartless nor uncompassionate; I know folks who are hurting right now, and within my means I try to help them. But I won't go broke trying to do so, and I wouldn't expect anyone else to do so for my sake.

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 04:36 PM

Jim, I heartily agree with you.

Where the right keeps going wrong (IMO) is in shying away from the moral case against income redistribution. The old joke about the daughter who comes home from college and lectures her Dad about fairness is a great illustration of this.

He ripostes by asking her to donate some of her hard earned GPA to her social butterfly friend who has only average grades.

"But DAD - I *earned* my grades!", she replies huffily.

"Welcome to the Republican party", he responds :)

Posted by: Cassandra at March 9, 2012 04:37 PM

I think it was Cassandra who said 'the upper classes would revolt.' If you want to fight your way out of that box, you're welcome.

As far as conflation goes, that's what you get with general principles. You gave two:

"My birth imposed no obligations on you. My circumstances impose no obligations on you."

I'm telling you that these principles don't hold water. They just don't. There are obligations on me, or you, that come from the fact of someone's existence, or someone's circumstances. We just have to sort out what the limits of those obligations happen to be. As a general principle, however, we can't deny that they exist.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2012 04:41 PM

"I'm telling you that these principles don't hold water. They just don't. There are obligations on me, or you, that come from the fact of someone's existence, or someone's circumstances. We just have to sort out what the limits of those obligations happen to be. As a general principle, however, we can't deny that they exist. "

You cannot argue that they do without making one of us slaves or prisoners.

Your example of witnessing a heart attack is tough, but can you diagnose a heart attack as opposed, to, say diabetic shock? What if you misdiagnose / mistreat and kill? Are you then a murderer?

Is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic obligated to assist in the car crash rescue? How about the mentally ill / disabled? If they cannot assist, are they still bound? If any are not bound, how can all be?

I'm not sure if your specific examples hold water or not. It seems you are obligating people who are not capable to malpractice, or holding the incompetent to the same standard as the competent. If this is so, how can you maintain the position? If not, are you not discriminating?

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 04:47 PM

You're right about one thing: duty does imprison us to a degree and for a time. In the case of a car wreck, for as long as I am rendering aid that attempts to save your life, I am doing what you need rather than what I want.

Such duties do exist. You may be called by the draft, if we ever again have a draft; or you may be called by Fate; or you may be called by God, if you have an ear to hear such calls. Jesus told Peter that he would be led where he did not wish to go; then he said, "Follow me."

If you serve as a prisoner or a slave, you may yet be exalted by the service. "To honor" is to sacrifice of yourself for something you hold to be greater than yourself; "Honor" is the quality of a man who does this. To be a man of honor is thus to be, in some sense, a prisoner or a slave. Honor and duty are things like that: they are chains, but chains that no good man refuses.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2012 05:02 PM

Your example of witnessing a heart attack is tough, but can you diagnose a heart attack as opposed, to, say diabetic shock? What if you misdiagnose / mistreat and kill? Are you then a murderer?

This still seems like an example of where to draw the line. Would it be inprisonment/slavery to say that if you had a cell phone on you you are obligated to call 911? That requires you to perform no action for which you are unable or incompetent.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 05:10 PM

Sorry, Grim; I refuse your definition. Duty is an individual choice; I have no duty to perform medicine when unqualified, military service when untrained (or unsuited; I didn't serve because I was too young for Vietnam, too old for Grenada, and generally undisciplined back then) or hazardous rescue when unprepared.

Would you accept my choices for your life? How can "society", "government" or "duty" have superior claim on my life?

"To be a man of honor is thus to be, in some sense, a prisoner or a slave. Honor and duty are things like that: they are chains, but chains that no good man refuses."

In an earlier, more civilized day, Robert E. Lee found his duty to be serving his native Virginia. Ulysses S. Grant found his duty to be serving Abraham Lincoln. Which duty was correct?

I do not find slavery or servitude exalting; I find it to be abuse of power. I will follow my honor and duty AS I SEE IT, and let no one else convince me what it is. Still less, an arbitrary law that takes no account of my abilities, training or facility for the need. I would not ask a bureaucrat to turn down a pump impeller on a lathe, they almost certainly would botch the job. I will not allow a government to tell me what my duty is or honor demands, they will almost certainly use me to their own ends. Sorry, can't agree with you here.

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 05:13 PM

"This still seems like an example of where to draw the line. Would it be inprisonment/slavery to say that if you had a cell phone on you you are obligated to call 911? That requires you to perform no action for which you are unable or incompetent."

Hey Yu-Ain! I agreed to this above; as long as my cellphone works! (but if I forgot to charge the battery, am I negligent? :-o) )
Cheers!

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 05:17 PM

Duty is an individual choice[.]

If it's a choice, then it isn't duty by definition. Duty is what you are obligated to do regardless of what you would prefer.

Jury duty, for example, is a duty you have whether you like it or not. There's no choice involved.

In an earlier, more civilized day, Robert E. Lee found his duty to be serving his native Virginia. Ulysses S. Grant found his duty to be serving Abraham Lincoln. Which duty was correct?

Who says they weren't both correct? You know their names, and perhaps something of their deeds, because they followed their duties. Their names shine to us across generations precisely because they did their duty. Why shouldn't duties conflict? And why should we fear to have enemies we respect? These were both good men, in their way: and better men, for having fought each other.

I do not find slavery or servitude exalting; I find it to be abuse of power.

The duty we are discussing as a canonical example is the duty to render aid to someone who is in danger of dying. Perhaps they are abusing their power to die in order to impose upon you; but that seems like a stretch, at best.

You will help them to the best of your ability, or you will be a scoundrel and a coward. You do, in a sense, have a choice to make here. In another sense, if you are a man of honor, you do not.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2012 05:24 PM

"Why shouldn't duties conflict? And why should we fear to have enemies we respect? "

If duties conflict, then we have a problem. R.E.Lee was trained at West Point, and from the Union point of view was OBLIGATED BY DUTY to put down the rebellion; he refused, seeing his duty as helping his native Virginia. U. S. Grant was invading the South; did not his duty to humanity obligate him to refuse to do so? Either duty is a choice, or we have no choices in life; it's just a matter of figuring out (by some imaginary objective standard) what our duty is, and acting accordingly.

"Jury duty, for example, is a duty you have whether you like it or not. There's no choice involved."

No, jury duty is a legislated obligation - you have no jury duty in appellate court. Courts are like every other human construct - arbitrary and frequently capricious (see Kelo vs. New London, CT, above). Prisoners, asylum inmates and those living abroad have no jury duty - so how can it be a duty?

"If it's a choice, then it isn't duty by definition. Duty is what you are obligated to do regardless of what you would prefer."
Are we talking about the same thing? Is "duty" an inner perception of a need that creates an internalized obligation, or whatever the legislature can be bribed into decreeing?

"You will help them to the best of your ability, or you will be a scoundrel and a coward. You do, in a sense, have a choice to make here. In another sense, if you are a man of honor, you do not."
I will not call you names if you decide that your duty lies elsewhere than I do.
Carry on!

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 05:37 PM

"Interestingly enough, Jim's argument is the perfect counter to Tlaloc's: it isn't just the danger of a lower class revolt we have to worry about. If government moves from protecting private property to confiscating and redistributing it, the upper classes are going to revolt."

For all the talk of "going Galt" the threat of an upper class revolt is essentially nil. They owe so much more to society than vice versa that they have no ability to threaten it unless the other classes go along with it.

If Bill Gates throws a protest nobody cares. if all the lower workers at Microsoft throw a protest the company closes. One of the two is necessary and the other isn't. If Gates tries to close down microsoft and the government and his employees don't feel like letting him there's nothing he can do about it.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 05:45 PM

"Where the right keeps going wrong (IMO) is in shying away from the moral case against income redistribution. The old joke about the daughter who comes home from college and lectures her Dad about fairness is a great illustration of this.

He ripostes by asking her to donate some of her hard earned GPA to her social butterfly friend who has only average grades.

"But DAD - I *earned* my grades!", she replies huffily.

"Welcome to the Republican party", he responds :)"


The problem with this (and yes I realize it was a joke and not a full fleshed out argument) is that grades are not a reward, they are a measurement of how well you understood the material. people do not survive off of grades. That being the case it makes no sense to talk of donating a portion of one's GPA to support the less academically inclined precisely because "support" in that sentence is semantically null.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 05:49 PM

"The stats you cite are the Household numbers. I've already addressed the issue with using that metric.

The individual metric however, is flat to slight decline."

Looking at your site it uses rather suspicious start and end points. It starts at 1994, shortly before the welfare reform under clinton and ends in current day. Looking at my source you notice the change in inequality started earlier in the 70s and 80 and then mostly flattened off in precisely the area where you are looking at it.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 05:53 PM

"For all the talk of "going Galt" the threat of an upper class revolt is essentially nil. They owe so much more to society than vice versa that they have no ability to threaten it unless the other classes go along with it. "

Let's see; Microsoft is a public company, and Gates, although rich from the stock, no longer actively runs it, or nominally even owns it (I think; I believe the public owns more stock than Gates, please advise if otherwise). In this case, Bill Gates no longer CONTROLS Microsoft, so the argument is empty; I can't shut down Ford Motors either!

"If Gates tries to close down microsoft and the government and his employees don't feel like letting him there's nothing he can do about it. "

The government has NOTHING to do with it running; the government cannot set profitable prices, design software, build factories or otherwise run a business. If, on the other hand, Gates had STOPPED running Microsoft (say, back in 1980) we'd all be using different software, if any. Don't get me wrong, government CAN destroy a business; it's why we've lost thousands in the last ten years alone. And if better software is written tomorrow and sold affordably, Microsoft will be a memory in short order.

But to suggest that the workers and government run a company and can keep it going if the management bails out, well ... there are plenty of counterexamples, and more coming.

Keep posting, though, Tlaloc, I agree with Cassandra; you're better at it than most!

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 05:56 PM

I will not call you names if you decide that your duty lies elsewhere than I do.

Let a man die because you can't be bothered to help him, and you will have earned far worse than rough names. If you intend to defend that position, you are more than welcome to it, and the names that attend it.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2012 06:01 PM

Tlaloc,
The problem with this... is that grades are not a reward, they are a measurement of how well you understood the material.

Neither is my salary a reward, it is a measurement of how well I provide value to my employer.

For all the talk of "going Galt" the threat of an upper class revolt is essentially nil.

So is a lower class revolt as well, for that matter. The workers at MS revolt and they close, Mr. Gates simply retires in luxury. The workers, however, have to go without until they find other employment. The phrase "Biting the hand that feeds" comes to mind. Getting large numbers of people to do this is not likely.

Jim,
Hey Yu-Ain! I agreed to this above;
So we've agreed what you are, now we're just haggling over the price. :-)

Which was Grim's point. Even you accept that there is *some* obligation, you just believe it to be a very small one. Grim believes it to be a larger one, and Tlaloc believes it to be even larger still.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 06:03 PM

Grim,
I don't think Jim intends to defend that one ought not to help, only that one can not be compelled through threat of force(violence) to help.

One may use all sorts of social admonishment, just not sticking a gun in your face.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 06:11 PM

"Let a man die because you can't be bothered to help him, and you will have earned far worse than rough names. If you intend to defend that position, you are more than welcome to it, and the names that attend it."

So I am to be bound by YOUR perception of my duty? What is your name for that?

My position is that duty is an individual perception, and should be acted on accordingly. If I do not perceive my duty as being that to help an accident victim DIRECTLY (why? Which of multiple victims to help first? If incapable / incompetent / untrained, inflict "help" nonetheless?) should I be prosecuted?

You seem to feel that you know how I should act, how I should perceive my duty and how I should respond to events. I deny your perception; it is too rigid, too inflexible, and as likely to hurt the victim further as help them.

I will not be your slave or prisoner, as you seem determined to make me; I must do as you say or be at fault. If I feel otherwise (as I seem to) should I get legislation passed to punish your disagreement?
Carry on!

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 06:11 PM

Looking at your site it uses rather suspicious start and end points.

Unfortunately, that's because the BLS doesn't publish that data prior to 1994 (at least not that I've been able to find).

However, you can still see that the individual and the household do not move together. And may, in fact, move in opposite directions. It is not true that people *must* be more unequal because the household metric is more unequal. They might be, but they do not have to be.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 06:15 PM

>>"Jim,
Hey Yu-Ain! I agreed to this above;
So we've agreed what you are, now we're just haggling over the price. :-)

Which was Grim's point. Even you accept that there is *some* obligation, you just believe it to be a very small one. Grim believes it to be a larger one, and Tlaloc believes it to be even larger still."

Sort of ... I am disagreeing that there are rigid rules, proper in all instances, that decree one must render direct physical aid to accident victims. I wouldn't want a drunkard trying to treat my broken leg, and I wouldn't want a paraplegic to endanger themselves trying to pull me from a car wreck. Rigid rules defy common sense, mainly; and duty is a personal perception, not a publicly decided one.

>>Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 06:03 PM

Grim,
I don't think Jim intends to defend that one ought not to help, only that one can not be compelled through threat of force(violence) to help.

One may use all sorts of social admonishment, just not sticking a gun in your face."

Again, sort of; no one else can tell you your duty, you must decide that for yourself. You should be able to help those who need it, but should not be compelled to help if you cannot do so properly.

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 06:19 PM

YAG,

Perhaps that is what he means to say; I don't know. I find his comments mystifying. He cites Lee and Grant; but, though they did not agree as to what their duties required, either of them would have shot a deserter or a spy.

Jim,

So I am to be bound by YOUR perception of my duty? What is your name for that?

I was in the Boy Scouts as a young man. One of my fellow scouts -- his name was Michael -- played hookey one day, with another young man named Slade; instead of going to school, they went shooting with Michael's .22 rifle.

At the end of the day, they went back to Michael's home, and they found his younger brother playing games. For some reason, Michael shot his little brother in the back of the head, and then waited for several hours until his father and step-father came home, and shot them both also. He later avoided a death sentence by pleading guilty; he's still in prison here in Georgia.

During the long hours between the killing of the little boy and the father, and another hour or so between the killing of the father and the mother-in-law, Slade did nothing to stop the coming killings. He made no attempt to fight back, to obtain the rifle, or to do anything but save himself.

He had a choice, in a sense: and if he'd made the right choice, at worst, he might have died. As it is, he's lived with the dishonor. It might be an act of mercy to avoid giving him the name that goes with such a dishonor; it might be generous. But to say that it is merciful or generous is to say that he deserves it, and that you are letting it go out of grace.

It doesn't matter what the government says or does, or whether it even exists. As a practical matter, for Slade in those hours, it didn't exist: the government might as well have been a million miles away. He's still responsible for what he did, or more particularly, for what he failed to do. We aren't imposing a duty on him by violence: rather, if we release him from it, we're giving him a gift unearned.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2012 06:29 PM

Hi Cass. Good to see you back in the game.I caught something on G+ from someone that mentioned MM and came here right away. I have been doing way to much G+ and neglecting all the others.
"Semper Fi"
Mike
Actually I had forgotten about MM and wanted to get back to her newest site.

Posted by: Mike at March 9, 2012 06:41 PM

Grim,
I'm mildly mystified; where did this come from? Your childhood friend Michael was a criminal, no doubt about it; his friend Slade was perhaps negligent, but did he deserve death at Michael's hands? Had he KNOWN Michael would kill his father, would he still have been obligated to risk death, and possibly suffer it, in order to increase the body count?
I don't see how Slade could have KNOWN what would happen; I haven't heard that he was CAPABLE of taking the gun away from Michael, with sure or unsure results. Was Slade trained in martial arts, twice Michael's size, faster than a cobra? Did Slade KNOW he would die if he tried?
We've come a long way from a "duty" to help accident victims to a "duty" to take on an armed killer bare-handed. Would it make any difference to you if "Slade" were "Sara"? Or if she were a karate champion?
I think you want for people to do the right thing; the honorable thing, the courageous thing, and that society would be better for it if all did.
But who decides what is honorable, courageous and right? Can others make that decision for you?
Carry on!

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 06:41 PM

The question isn't who decides, Jim, it's whether or not there is a standard. This is an argument that goes back to ancient Greece, but I hold with Plato, that it is not man but a god who decides.

If Slade had fought for the lives of the innocent, he might have won great glory; if he had died, I would have been there to bury him, and I would still speak his name with honor. We've buried a lot of honorable men in my time. I don't know that you understand the problem you're looking at here: you ask if he deserved to die. What does that even mean? Did he deserve to live? How would you rule on such a question? Do any of us deserve to live -- to experience, ever at all, a world of trees and love and light? We didn't make it. We have no claim on it.

This is the root of the thing, and I believe you when you say that you are mystified. You ought to be. These are mysteries: but we must think of these things, and carefully, if we are to ask what our duties entail. We owe something, and something mighty, simply as a debt for the trees -- the love -- the light. That debt is on you whether you want it or not.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2012 06:56 PM

"The government has NOTHING to do with it running;"

The point I was trying to make (although not very well) was that if the owner of a company decides to shutter the business and his employees ignore him his only recourse is to invoke the government to help. If the government is ill inclined to do so he's powerless. Which is a tortured way of saying the people at the bottom can always do without the people at the top, the reverse is not true. Hence the idea of an upper class revolt is not threatening.


"But to suggest that the workers and government run a company and can keep it going if the management bails out, well ... there are plenty of counterexamples, and more coming."

In my experience (I've worked for a couple fortune 500 companies, one of them for about a decade), it'd take at least weeks for anyone to notice if every manager suddenly vanished. And then the first indication would be the skyrocketing productivity. Managers should be logisticians, getting the people who do the work (i.e everyone who isn't a manger) what they need by way of supplies and otherwise staying out of the way.
Strangely though instead we treat managers as the bosses, despite their having no ability to do actual work, and a propensity for making lots of busy work that craters both motivation and productivity.


"Keep posting, though, Tlaloc, I agree with Cassandra; you're better at it than most!"

Cheers!

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 07:14 PM

"Neither is my salary a reward, it is a measurement of how well I provide value to my employer."

Maybe that's the ideal but in reality it's much more of a reward. That's why executives from failing companies get million dollar golden parachutes. They haven't provided value to their company but they are rewarded anyway.


"So is a lower class revolt as well, for that matter. The workers at MS revolt and they close, Mr. Gates simply retires in luxury. The workers, however, have to go without until they find other employment. The phrase "Biting the hand that feeds" comes to mind. Getting large numbers of people to do this is not likely."

Actually when I was thinking of the workers actually revolting I was thinking of something more akin to the french revolution or even modern Egypt or Libya. Perhaps even Somalia.

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 07:18 PM

Grim,
That's an interesting point of view you have. I don't know if there is a standard or not - have you asked the fatally ill? The oppressed? Those who aren't Western (Greek philosophical basis) or military? Military people seem to believe as you do, and that's reasonable - we ask them to die for us, and that is a terrible burden.
Do we have the right to ask non-military to take on these burdens? Is a man a "coward" for not taking on an armed killer bare-handed? How old was Slade when this happened - is it right to ask him to risk / give up "the trees - the love - the light" as a Boy Scout?
I will defend my family to the death - someone else's, probably, no quarter asked or given to any attacker. I will defend those who I believe worthy of defense - probably whether they ask or not. I will NOT defend the tyrannical, the oppressive, the corrupt, whether they ask or not - I must choose how and where to spend my life, and no other. I would rather spend it defending the worthy, than serving the evil. But I am an ADULT - I can make reasonable, informed choices on how to live my life. Can a Boy Scout?

"I don't know that you understand the problem you're looking at here: you ask if he deserved to die. What does that even mean? Did he deserve to live? How would you rule on such a question? Do any of us deserve to live -- to experience, ever at all, a world of trees and love and light? We didn't make it. We have no claim on it. "

YES, we all DESERVE to live - until we give that up by our behavioral choices. It's why we execute serial killers - they have forfeited their claim by their actions. Your belief in the afterlife seems to drive a lot of this - do those who don't believe in an afterlife have to act as if they do?
I actually have no problem with your choices, your concept of duty, or your actions - but I cannot hold that a Boy Scout must attack a armed killer, even if that killer is another Boy Scout. I have a hard time with inflexible rules, because they lead to Pickett's Charge - or even worse. I have an even harder time telling someone else what they MUST do, since I am not them - I only know what I must do, sometimes, and frequently have my doubts then.
My question: did Lee do his duty, from the Northern point of view? Was there honor in his decision? If a "point of view" is even applicable, is there duty?
One last question: "We owe something, and something mighty, simply as a debt for the trees -- the love -- the light. That debt is on you whether you want it or not." The Islamics hold that the "duty" of every Muslim is to convert, subdue, or kill anyone who isn't Muslim; is that debt still placed on them, whether they want it or not, and are they discharging it in their activities?
I won't criticize you or your point of view; there MAY be a standard, it's tough to say; I wish you the best in your life, whether you agree with me or not.

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 07:25 PM

"However, you can still see that the individual and the household do not move together. And may, in fact, move in opposite directions. It is not true that people *must* be more unequal because the household metric is more unequal. They might be, but they do not have to be."

Alright then, but should we not be concerned also for household inequality? Granted it incorporates the issues of marriage rate within various classes, and yet still it points to a strained society. My biggest complaint about the GINI data is that it doesn't seem to have enough categories. Making the top bucket $100k+ does a lot to hide that the number goes way up from there. That's not even 1% of what someone like Limbaugh makes in a year (45 million from what I read).

Posted by: Tlaloc at March 9, 2012 07:26 PM

Hey Tlaloc!
"Which is a tortured way of saying the people at the bottom can always do without the people at the top, the reverse is not true. Hence the idea of an upper class revolt is not threatening."

OK, I sort of see (he said, leaning back in his recliner, sipping his Dom Perignon and lighting up a Cuban cigar). The upper class is dependent on the lower classes to provide them with the necessities of life. What, though, will provoke them to stop providing us with them, in exchange for these pretty coins and bills? ;-)

Actually, if EVERYONE could start and run a business successfully, they probably would; being rich is a lot more fun than being poor (I'm speaking hypothetically of course, see "graduate student" comment above.). The entrepreneurial skillset is fairly rare these days, though, especially since the rules and regulations have multiplied like bacteria. My brother Mike was one such, having started and sold carpentry businesses a couple of times; neither one ever grew big, the competition was tough and he frankly said if he obeyed all the regulations, he never could have even started either.

"In my experience (I've worked for a couple fortune 500 companies, one of them for about a decade), it'd take at least weeks for anyone to notice if every manager suddenly vanished. "

Agreed! And then they would fall to arguing over who would get paid what, who would control what, which product to make next....the coordination problems would kill the shop, eventually.

"Managers should be logisticians, getting the people who do the work (i.e everyone who isn't a manger) what they need by way of supplies and otherwise staying out of the way."

And most of the GOOD ones I've worked for were exactly that! Good call.
As long as you work for another person, though, you get a mixed bag of rewards, challenges, make-work and exercises in futility. Good luck!

Posted by: Jim at March 9, 2012 07:40 PM

Jim,

Have you asked the fatally ill? The oppressed? Those who aren't Western (Greek philosophical basis) or military?

In point of fact, I have: but the question is only another fashion of asserting that man, and not a god, is the measure of all things. Yet you will find that the Chinese also believe, and deeply, in the nature of honor.

The Islamics hold that the "duty" of every Muslim is to convert, subdue, or kill anyone who isn't Muslim; is that debt still placed on them, whether they want it or not, and are they discharging it in their activities?

Once a former member of Saddam's Special Republican Guard taught me to say "Marsha'allah" at the time of farewell. You haven't quite taken on board what I said about Grant and Lee. A man might love his enemies, and deeply love them. Yet still: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I spit you out." (Rev. 3:16).

I love my enemies, but not the man who dares not be my enemy. Rightly so: my enemy sharpens me. He also loves me, in his way. Whether or not there is a time after this time, he is in his manner my friend.

Posted by: Grim at March 9, 2012 09:09 PM

The French Revolution is a strained analogy. Remember, the French Nobility were not merely "The Rich" they were "The Government" whose incomes were derived not from the exchange of goods and services, but rather through through taxes extracted at the point of a sword.

You didn't give money to the local French Lord and he burned your village. You don't give money to Bill Gates, he goes without.

Same with Egypt, etc.

As for householding, how exactly do you plan to redress "Marriage Inequality"? Have the gov't assign spouses or punish those who make the smart decision and reward those who do not?

Of course, that assumes that marriage is, by definition, the "superior" position. I know quite a few people who would argue otherwise. That it is better to be single and have the lower income.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 9, 2012 10:54 PM

And that last paragraph is the ultimate problem. How are you to measure inequality given how disparately people value different things. Some more highly value the income, some more highly value less time at work. Mr. Limbaugh makes a ton more than I do, but I wouldn't trade places with him. We are not equal. I have the superior position If I thought his income was worth the time, effort, and headache, I'd be trying to do what he does. Mr. Limbaugh, obviously feels otherwise, else he would be trying to do what I do. Why are you trying to "redress" an inequality that does not exist?

Maybe that's the ideal but in reality it's much more of a reward. That's why executives from failing companies get million dollar golden parachutes. They haven't provided value to their company but they are rewarded anyway.

Not exactly. The golden parachutes were a condition of the person taking the job. The board of directors don't pay these amounts out of the goodness of their hearts. They are greedy profit loving bastards, remember? :-) The executive has had a track record of returning value to their employers, but running a company is and always has been a risky venture. Sometimes you do everything right and you still fail. When Steve Jobs set out to make a tablet, there was no guarantee of success. Tablets had been made and failed before after all. Since it worked, everyone thinks he's a genius. But if it had failed, it doesn't mean that he was a worthless CEO.

My biggest complaint about the GINI data is that it doesn't seem to have enough categories.

The GINI index is calculated on raw values, not buckets. Reports have to be built using buckets else they would be unreadable. But the index itself is built on a rank ordering of the raw values, specifically because you are right that how you choose to set the buckets would manipulate the value.

The problem with the household GINI is that it conflates two independent variables. Income distribution and the proportion of the married population. To use the household GINI over time one must assume that the marriage rate is constant over that time. This is something we know to be false (In fact, we know it to be falling which, mathematically, forces the Household GINI to increase even if no one's income changes). To look at that measure and conclude that it is the income piece that needs to be fixed is to declare that you know you have bad data, but you just don't care.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 10, 2012 09:43 AM

I believe I have an obligation to help people. I believe I have a right to disapprove of people who don't agree with me on this, and to avoid them as friends and intimates. I draw the line only at believing that it's an appropriate role of government to force people to help others.

I agree entirely with Grim in the lessons he draws from his story about Michael and Slade, but that's between us and Slade and God. There are many occasions where I'm in favor of using the power of the state to prevent people from actively harming others, but very, very few where I'm in favor of using the power of the state to force them to help. I think that's something for people to work out between themselves voluntarily, and they answer to God if they fail in their duties, not to Uncle Sam. They don't even answer to me, unless they want or need my approval (or my help).

Posted by: Texan99 at March 10, 2012 11:13 AM

"Once a former member of Saddam's Special Republican Guard taught me to say "Marsha'allah" at the time of farewell. You haven't quite taken on board what I said about Grant and Lee. A man might love his enemies, and deeply love them. Yet still: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I spit you out." (Rev. 3:16). "

I can't quite get a grip on your understanding of honor and duty - does the individual decide, the group the individual belongs to decide, or are we just supposed to telepathically know?
One more time: Lee was trained at West Point, a Union facility. He learned all about command, tactics, and presumably honor and duty there. Yet, when push came to shove, he abandoned his Union commission and went to war on the side of Virginia. You appear to consider him to have been a man of honor - but did he act honorably in fighting for the south, or did he betray his Union heritage by doing so?
If he betrayed his Union training, he was not a man of honor - yet if he remained honorable, how do you explain his action?
I haven't had military training, so I don't understand - can you explain this? Or have I not explained the contradiction?

Posted by: Jim at March 10, 2012 12:03 PM

Texan99, we get along. As a migrating Texan myself, I hope for better days for the Republic - both yours and the larger one!
Cheers!

Posted by: Jim at March 10, 2012 12:05 PM

Jim: If I understand him correctly, Grim, like me, believes that God speaks to our hearts and informs our consciences. (That's a process you may view from your perspective as either "telepathy" or as a message that comes to us through nature, human culture, or pure reason.)

I hope I am not being presumptuous in adding that I suspect Grim believes that each man has to work this out for himself and that any human tradition or institution, while it may provide guidance, is unavoidably secondary to the honorable man's own decision about where his honor lies. Lee faced conflicting societal demands on his honor and made his own painful decision where to stand. I don't accept that by betraying his Union training he betrayed his honor.

By "migrating Texan," do you mean one who's a-comin' or a-goin'? Because, you know, there's no place like Texas.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 10, 2012 03:14 PM

Sounds like we are about on the same page; I'll wait for Grim's answer on Lee's decision.

FWIW, I do not look down on Lee; he did what he had to do, KNEW what kind of hell was coming, and stood his ground. I DO look down on Sherman: Lee did not pillage Pennsylvania, but Sherman sure ruined Georgia in his "March to the Sea". Was that Sherman's "duty", making war on civilians that way?

"By "migrating Texan," do you mean one who's a-comin' or a-goin'? Because, you know, there's no place like Texas."

Both, more-or-less continuously, for the last thirty years or so; born in Texas, raised in Tennessee, out of college back to Texas, CA,AL,TN again, GA, WV, now Utah - and I doubt I'm finished migrating yet. May try overseas a while - both families have had folks try a spell in places like France, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and more. We seem to have traveling shoes on, even when we're barefoot!

Cheers!

Posted by: Jim at March 10, 2012 04:20 PM

Robert E. Lee (and Joe Johnston and hundreds of other officers) did not betray his (their) personal "honor", because he believed he could not raise his sword or his hand, to his home, kin and friends in Virginia.

But he (and hundreds of other officers) also swore an oath on a Bible to support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and its government when they were commissioned as officers in the United States Army.

Frankly, they were lucky that the country as a whole was sick of the war and killing and generally looking for reconciliation, forgiveness and peace. In a different frame of reality, they could have all been hung for treason.

In the time after the War Between the States, most of the officers of the late Confederacy that had been previously commissioned in the US Army were hanging around Washington DC waiting and petitioning friends still in the US Army for their pardons, which was an understood part of the surrrender.

After Lincoln was assasinated by a Confederate sympathizer, the mood in the Capital and in the US Army had darkened a bit, and a lot of Confederate officers were sweating that one out.

But suprisingly, the North did honor the promise and granted all the officers in question pardons.

I am a little hung up on this whole honor and duty concept. Is it subjective? Is there a common standard?

I understand the words, but I fail to grasp some of the more tenuous applications.

"Honor thy father and thy mother". Ok, that is clearly a commandment from the Almighty to honor someone, your parents. To honor them and family you are a part of.

"Keep the Sabbath and make it holy". And that is the duty of the believing Christian.

"Go amd make disciples of all Nations". We all seem to falling a little short of duty here if you are a believing Christian.

A duty, generally speaking, is something that you may take on voluntarily (such as joining a police force, fire department, or the military) where you may be expected to risk your life and limb in the proper execution of your "duty", as you come to understand and accept it.

Boy Scouts are reminded to "do their duty, to God and country", which can be a heavy obligation for a 12 year old if taken to the absolute meaning of the words, but it is also a formative experience and can help foster manhood in such a boy.

But I am a little unclear as to what the "duty" is of grown men and women. We all view the obligations, responsibilities and rights of citizenship differently, and thus there is not always a crystal clear idea of what our duty is as citizens - although that is probably a good clue that the civics education of children and young men and women is in some ways faulty.

And in the case of Robert E. Lee and the host of other officers of the Confederacy that resigned and joined the Army of Northern Virginia or other CSA outfits, where did their personal honor and duty trump their vows and oaths they had taken to the government of the United States?

Where do all of us turn when our personal notion of right and wrong (duty and honor) is in conflict with that of our neighbors, or government?

As Robert Heinlein once wrote,"Duty is something which you can take on in a moment, and spend a lifetime trying to fulfill." The concept of duty to any idea or to another person (wife or husband, or child, or kin) is indeed easy to accept, but can be heartbreaking at the end to actually live up to. Never take on any duty too lightly.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 10, 2012 04:36 PM

Nicely put, and a lot of what I was wrestling with above.

Cassandra, you've been mighty quiet mostly; do you have a take on this?

Posted by: Jim at March 10, 2012 04:43 PM

I don't think I would argue that West Point was "a Union facility" in 1825, when Robert E. Lee arrived to study. People forget that it was so early; he was 32 years in the US Army, and a veteran of the Mexican war. He was also served in campaigns against the Apache and Comanche.

For that matter, I wouldn't want to argue that West Point was "a Union facility" even in the 1850s. For three years in that decade, the name of its superintendent was Robert E. Lee.

My interest in history generally lies elsewhere, but having been educated in Georgia, I've been required to study the Civil War at greater length than I might have chosen on my own. I know, therefore, that the West Point teachings on secession before the war appears to have been that it was an open question whether or not it was allowable, but that it was hard to make sense of the Declaration of Independence without believing it to be a power retained by the states.

Indeed, it's hard to see how it can be read as anything else under the 10th Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." The Constitution neither delegates the power to the United States nor prohibits it to the states; thus, it must fall among those powers reserved by the states or the people.

If that was your understanding, you could uphold both an oath to the Constitution and an act of secession: after all, the Constitution was the product of secessionist principles in the Founders. Others felt otherwise, but I see no reason to think Lee's reading of the situation was in any way a violation of the oath he had so well kept for 32 years.

I endorse everything T99 has said on my behalf; she seems to understand my position quite well.

Posted by: Grim at March 10, 2012 05:32 PM

Hey! There are a few areas where we can communicate successfully.

Posted by: Texan99 at March 11, 2012 10:52 AM

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